EXCLUSIVE: Virgil Abloh Responds to Critics: “It’s Glaringly Obvious That I Stand With Black People”
Virgil Abloh, one of the world’s most prominent Black designers, spoke exclusively with Fast Company staff writer Liz Segran about the Black Lives Matter movement, the criticism he has received in recent weeks, and his hope for the future.
Earlier this month, Abloh was accused of not showing enough support for the Black Lives Matter movement, after he expressed dismay at the looting of businesses and publicized an underwhelming donation to a bond fund.
“Our own communities, our own shops… this shop was built with blood sweat and tears,” he wrote on Instagram. Many people responded angrily that he seemed to be showing more concern for the business community than for those fighting for racial justice. Abloh explained to Fast Company that he struggled throughout his life to become a business owner himself, and one of his central goals now that he is a successful designer is to support other Black businesses. He apologized for his comments on Instagram, writing, “People who criticize ‘looting’ often do so as a way to make it seem like our fight against injustice isn’t legitimate. I did not realize the ways my comments accidentally contributed to that narrative.”
Abloh also posted an image of a $50 donation he made to an organization called Fempower that helped pay for the legal expenses of arrested protesters. This fueled even more anger, as people complained on social media that it was a measly sum for such a wealthy person to donate. Abloh insists it was a misunderstanding. “The goal was to say, ‘Get together with your friends and do what you can,’” Abloh says. “It was meant to say that no amount was too little to donate.” He later announced a donation of $20,500 to bail funds and other causes.
The fashion industry is notoriously racist. Within the Council of Fashion Designers of America, one of the industry’s most prominent trade organizations, only 3% of members are Black. So when Abloh was named artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton, making him one of the only Black designers at the helm of a luxury fashion house, the fashion media celebrated his appointment.
Abloh understands the broader implications of his ascent. “I accept the circumstances of this position,” he says. “With great opportunity comes great responsibility. My goal is to lead example.”
Abloh is part of a working group at Louis Vuitton that hopes to increase diversity internally. He describes himself as an optimist. He believes that we can undo systemic racism in his lifetime, and the current moment could push the fashion industry to tackle racial justice head on.
“I believe there’s going to be a Black Renaissance,” Abloh tells Fast Company. “Before I felt very alone in this struggle, but now, people are ready for change. The atmosphere is different.”
Elizabeth Segran, PHD., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her work has been published in The Atlantic, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs and The Nation.